‘I might have been illegal myself!’ – Drivers weigh in on US GP plank checks controversy

Thomas Maher
Alex Albon races for Williams at the Circuit of the Americas during the US Grand Prix.

Alex Albon races for Williams at the Circuit of the Americas during the US Grand Prix.

With two of the four cars checked after the US GP proving to be illegal, should more of the classified cars have had their plank examined?

Several of the F1 drivers have had their say on whether or not more cars should have been checked after the United States Grand Prix, after both Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc were disqualified from second and sixth place, respectively.

Leclerc and Hamilton, as well as Lando Norris and Max Verstappen, were the four cars pulled aside as the stewards examined a car from each of the top four teams in the race. With two of the four cars proving to have excessive plank wear, it prompted plenty of pundit and fan reaction that more of the cars should have been checked.

F1 drivers call for further checks following US GP disqualifications

Weighing in on the topic during the Mexican Grand Prix media day, some of the drivers were asked whether they would have preferred to see more of the cars tested given that further disqualifications could have promoted them.

“I might have been illegal myself,” Nico Hulkenberg said.

“You never know. Obviously, these cars are incredibly sensitive to ride height – the lower you get, the more downforce you get, that’s the constant fight we have and we need to find the right balance.

“Austin is a bit specific with the bumpiness and also with a lot of apex and exit kerbs where you can run them quite aggressively but you do use the plank and wear down those shims a lot. So maybe there’s something to be looked at in a different way.”

Race winner Max Verstappen, whose car was confirmed legal, said Red Bull had run their cars a little too high in a bid to ensure safety.

“Because of the sprint weekend, you only had one session to make sure that you try and be as close to the limit as possible,” he said.

“Sometimes it can catch you out. From our side, we did run the car a little bit too high, just to be safe. Definitely, that cost a bit of performance. We know that, when we drop the car, you go faster. If you go below the limits, you go even faster.”

Pierre Gasly pointed to the fact the sprint format reduced setup time to such an extent that finding the correct ride heights is made far more difficult.

“There are a couple of things that we could do to improve what’s happened in Austin, I think, starting with the sprint weekend where we only got one FP1 session on such a track,” he said.

“You’re doing 15 laps with quite a low amount of fuel in the car. To get a gauge of what you’re gonna get for the next 70 laps with qualifying, a sprint race, compete a full Grand Prix of 59 laps with a lot of fuel – we were going pretty much blind after FP1 with very little information on where to base yourself. I think it’s a tricky thing.

“Probably we can improve that process and give us more time to readjust if needed. I just remember my karting days when all top three cars were always checked. Whenever you finished on the podium, there would be checks every single time and then, on top of that, there would be random checks running down the order.

“I think it’s only in F1 where it’s not a standard to check all top three cars, but it was tricky and I think the sprint format made it even more tricky, considering we have a short amount of time to set the car up.”

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McLaren’s Lando Norris, whose car was the other one of the two confirmed legal, was reluctant to speak out on the subject, initially saying he didn’t want to say anything, but said more of the grid should have had their cars checked.

“Yeah, they should have done,” he said.

“My car was fine, they checked mine first.

“It’s more teams, I guess. If one team has one car, it’s unlikely that two cars are that different. If one car is illegal, then [there’s] a high chance that the other car is but it’s the way it went. The stewards did their job, which was a good thing.”

Williams’ Alex Albon agreed with Gasly’s assessment and said that outcomes, where two of the four cars are illegal, should perhaps mean the sister cars are checked.

“What the teams have in terms of data and information to set the ride heights for the weekend is very marginal,” he said.

“There’s not even really enough time to fill the cars up in FP1 just to get a feel for where they need to be.

“But on the same side, maybe you don’t need to check every car, every race, all the time but if there’s one driver in one team illegal, there’s a very, very high chance that the teammate of that driver is going to be illegal as well.

“I don’t know how much it would take to check a couple more cars, but I don’t think that would be such an issue. But I don’t know, I’m not a scrutineer.”

 

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